Tuesday October 17, 2017

Kolkata’s neglected Durgas celebrate puja

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By Arnab Mitra

Kolkata: The Durbar Mahila Samanway committee’s Durga Puja was inaugurated on Sunday by the Minister of State for women and child welfare, Dr Sashi Panja. This is the third consecutive year that the sex workers organization, Durbar is organizing the Puja in Sonagachi, North Kolkata.

The inaugural ceremony was also graced by the founder of Durbar, Dr Samarjit Jena and other dignitaries.

Minister of State for women and child welfare Sashi Panja inaugurating the Durga puja organised by the sex-workers of Kolkata
Minister of State for women and child welfare Sashi Panja inaugurating the Durga puja organised by the sex-workers of Kolkata

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NewsGram talked with sex worker Rita Roy and the secretary of Durbar Mahila Samanway Committee Bharati Dey, to know their views on their Durga Puja.

Arnab Mitra: How will you enjoy on these five days of Durgotsav?

Rita Roy: Like the other people in the society we will also entertain ourselves having tasty dishes, new clothes and with cultural programs. But there is a difference… our enjoyment starts and ends in this red light area and we cannot refrain from work, as every day we have to earn to serve our belly.

AM: Do you like to spend time with your family members if you get a chance?

RR: Not me, everyone likes to spend time with their family members. My family knows  everything and are very much dependent upon my earnings. But thanks to our society and its mindset, I never dared to meet them. I didn’t even see my parents’ faces in 20 years.

AM: What is the role of Durbar in improving the condition of sex workers?

RR: Dr Samarjit Jana’s struggle along with all the other sex workers of Durbar to give us a stand has helped in providing us a kind of social status. Before Durbar, sex workers were treated like dogs, but now we have our own bank, our children are going to school and we are living happily.

AM: Do you see yourself as a durga?

RR: Yes, people worship Maa Durga as she saved thousands of lives by killing Mahisashur. Similarly, every night we kill the lust of greedy men and save the lives of our sisters and daughters.

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The sex-workers had to fight a legal battle to get the permission for the puja

In an interaction with the secretary of Durbar, Bharati Dey, she said, “The sex workers are very happy with this puja.” But she is dissatisfied with the court’s verdict of not giving them permission to organize Durga Puja. “If the court won’t allow them to do puja next year, they will stay aside from organising Durga Pujo.”

On the question of ITPA Act and social respect, Bharati Dey said, “The government should immediately withdraw the ITPA Act and make prostitution legalised in India. That way, the sex workers will get their deserved social respect as they are working to serve a basic need of the society.

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Sindoor Khela: Bengali women play with sindoor on vijayadashami

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www.durgapujaonline.com

Sindoor Khela: It is an age old ritual that on the last day of Durga puja “Vijayadashami”, women apply sindoor/sindur on the goddess’s feet or forehead and then start smearing it to all the married women around. However, unmarried women or widows are not allowed to celebrate Sindoor Khela.

Sindoor Khela celebrates the pride that Bengali wives take in having a husband and to wish a long happy life of her better half.

The customary “Sindoor Khela” marks the end of the biggest festival of the Bengalis. It is the time when all the actresses in Kolkata get together and splash each other with the vermilion.

History of Sindoor Khela:

Sindoor Khela dates back to around 400 years. It was the time when people had just started celebrating Durga Puja. According to a famous legend, every year Maa Durga during Durga Puja, comes back to her parents place (father Giriraj and mother Menoka). She also brings her daughters (Saraswati and Lakshmi), two sons (Ganesh and Kartik) and 2 companions (Bijoya and Jaya) along with her. Maa Durga stays along with her parents for only 4 days and on Vijayadashami, she has to return to Shiva (her husband) in the far Himalayas. Before bidding the final goodbye to the Goddess, women apply sindoor on Durga’s feet and forehead and then they play with vermilion or sindoor with each other. They also pray to the Goddess for their happy and long married lives.

Photos by Saptojoy Ghosh

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Mahalaya: The Bengali radio tradition

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It was four in the morning when I was woken up with a phone call today. The screen said ‘Ma’, my mother.

“Shunchish toh?” (Are you listening?)

I tuned into All India Radio channel (Akashvani), and the familiar long-drawn sound of the sacred conch shell filled the apartment.

Ya devi sarvabhuteshu, shakti rupena sansthita।
Namastashyai Namastashyai Namastashyai namo namaha।।

Most Bengalis would know these lines by heart as they constitute our earliest recollections of Durga puja.

From bleary memories, these lines surface from the time of tape recorders and radios. Early morning would see most of us awake, strains of Mahisasura Mardini floating in from nearby apartments. So successful have been our mothers and grandmothers in inculcating this timeless tradition into our very Bengali souls, that even those staying away from their Kolkata hometown resort to searching out Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s rendering of Mahisasura Mardini on the internet and listening to it as the day’s wake-up call.

Earlier, the day called for night-long feasting ending with the pre-dawn radio programme. A lot of the excitement has dwindled over the ages, but hints of nostalgia continue to grip us.

Mahalaya marks the end of the Pitri Pakhha (a 15-day tradition in which people pay their offerings and respect for their ancestors in river banks, in a ritual called ‘tarpan’) and the beginning of the first day of the fortnight long Devi Paksha.

Traditionally, artisans designing the numerous Durga idols add the final touches to the Goddess on this day– her eyes. After her ‘Chakkhudaan’ (donation of the eyes), the devi is asked to awake: “Jaago! Tumi Jaago!” as goes one of the timeless pieces in the Mahisasura Mardini programme.

Bhadra’s reverberating chants serve to remind Bengalis world wide of their roots and no matter where they are located, Mahalaya brings into fore the excitement that pulses inside every Bengali before Durga Puja.

“Ma asche” (Mother is coming), everyone whispers excitedly, and starts the countdown to the major four days of festivity even though Durga Puja itself is broadly a 10-day festival.

Mahalaya was first broadcast in 1931 over the Akashvani (AIR) radio station. The enchanting hour-and-a-half audio programme is a spirited recitation of Vedic verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ interspersed with Bengali devotional songs and classical music. The Mahisasuramardini Strota was written by Guru Adi Sankaracharya.

Organised by Premankur Aatorthi, Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Nripendra Krishna Mukhopadhya and Raichand Boral, the program, tells the story of Devi Durga’s origin and descent on the earth and her eventual vanquishing of the demon king Mahisasura. It was broadcast live till 1958, after which, a pre-recorded version was played. The programme has also been translated into Hindi for the Indian Diaspora.

In 1976, Bengal superstar Uttam Kumar had once recited the Mahalaya under the music direction of Hemanta Kumar. However, it didn’t resonate with the masses the same way and Akashvani went back to Bhadra’s voice.

Bani Kumar wrote the script while the eternal Pankaj Kumar Mallik gave the music. Bengali music stalwarts such as Dijen Mukhopadhay, Sandhya Mukhopadhay, Arati Mukhopadhay and Shyamal Mitra have lent their melodious voices towards Mahisasura Mardini.

In recent times, Doordarshan along with several other TV channels broadcast a visual rendering of the Mahisashura Mardini myth, usually carried out through dance, drama and music.

The story of Mahisashura Mardini speaks of the tyranny of the demon king Mahisasura against the gods and men. Unable to take his atrocities, the gods prayed to Vishnu for salvation from this evil. The trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shiva) use their powers to create a powerful female form- Durga, or ‘Mahamaya’– the source of universal power.

They bestow her with their blessings and the gods give her the weapons she holds in her ten arms. She rides into battle on the back of a lion and vanquishes Mahisasura, earning the name ‘Mahisasuramardini’– the destroyer of Mahisasura.

Mahisaura Mardini is now available in CDs and for download online.

You can listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s version here.

http://youtu.be/-uwjlI82yzk

 

 

 

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Mahalaya: Beginning of “Devipaksha” in Bengali Celebration of ‘Durga Puja’

“Mahalaya” is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha” and heralds the celebration of Durga Puja

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Mahalaya morning in Kolkata. Flickr
  • Mahalaya 2017 Date: 19th september.
  • On Mahalaya, people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers; which is called ‘Torpon’
  • Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted in All India Radio
  • The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent

Sept 19, 2017: Autumn is the season of the year that sees the Hindus, all geared up to celebrate some of the biggest festivals of India. The festive spirit in the Bengalis all enthused to prepare for the greatest of the festivals, the ‘Durga Puja’.

About Mahalaya:

Mahalaya is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha,” and this year it is celebrated on September 19.

Observed exactly a week before the ‘Durga Puja’, Mahalaya is the harbinger of the arrival of Goddess Durga. It is celebrated to invoke the goddess possessing supreme power! The goddess is invited to descend on earth and she is welcomed with devotional songs and holy chants of mantras. On this day, the eye is drawn in the idols of the Goddess by the artisans marking the initiation of “Devipaksha”. Mahalaya arrives and the countdown to the Durga Puja begins!

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The day of Mahalaya bears supreme significance to the Bengalis. The day is immensely important because on this day people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers. Clad in white dhotis, people offer prayers and take dips in the river while praying for their demised dear ones. The ritual is popular as “Torpon”.

Mahalaya
An idol-maker in progress of drawing the eye in the idol of the Goddess. Wikipedia

As per Hindu myth, on “Devipaksha”, the Gods and the Goddesses began their preparations to celebrate “Mahamaya” or Goddess Durga, who was brought upon by the trinity- Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara; to annihilate the fierce demon king named Mahishasura. The captivating story of the Goddess defeating the demon got popularized with the goddess being revered as “Durgatinashini” or the one who banishes all the evils and miseries of the world. The victory of the Goddess is celebrated as ‘Durga Puja’.

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Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted at dawn in All India Radio in the form of a marvelous audio montage enthralling the souls of the Bengalis. Presented with wonderful devotional music, acoustic drama, and classical songs- the program is also translated to Hindi and played for the whole pan-Indian listeners.

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Mahalaya
Birendra Krishna Bhadra (1905-1991). Wikipedia

The program is inseparable from Mahalaya and has been going on for over six decades till date. The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent! He has been a legend and the dawn of Mahalaya turns insipid without the reverberating and enchanting voice of the legendary man.

Mahalaya will keep spreading the magic and setting the vigor of the greatest festival of the Bengalis- the Durga Puja, to worship the supreme Goddess, eternally.

                 “Yaa Devi Sarbabhuteshu, Shakti Rupena Sanhsthita,

                     Namastaswai Namastaswai Namastaswai Namo Namaha.”

– by Antara Kumar of NewsGram. Twitter: @ElaanaC